I would like to share with you a journal entry written by a young woman:
“They can harass us, they can rob us of our material goods, of our freedom of movement. But we ourselves forfeit our greatest assets by our misguided compliance; by our feelings of being persecuted, humiliated, oppressed; by our own hatred. We may, of course, be sad and depressed by what has been done to us; that is only human and understandable. However, our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves…I believe in God and I believe in human beings, and I say so without embarrassment. Life is hard but that is not a bad thing…true peace will come only when every individual finds peace within self; when we have vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race…I am a happy person and I hold life dear indeed, in this year of Our Lord 1942, the umpteenth year of the war.
This woman’s name is Etty Hillesum. She died in Auschwitz in November 1943. Her journal was published in the early 1980’s. Her story unfolds in the Netherlands at a time when the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews was intensifying.
When Etty began writing her journal, her moral life was far from edifying. She was emotionally vulnerable, had no fixed moral guidelines, and had had several lovers. She was, however, driven by a powerful craving for the truth about herself. Through her experiences, and the influence of close friends she discovered values that would see her through the challenges she was to face: the importance of prayer, acknowledging the presence of God within herself, and the realization of the need to abandon herself trustingly to God. Before she was finally deported to Auschwitz, while a prisoner in a Dutch camp, she showed faith in God, courage in suffering, and a devotion to neighbor that demonstrated her deep spirituality despite the dark areas of her life. Just when all her exterior freedoms were being taken away, she discovered a happiness and interior freedom that no one could steal from her from that point on.
I share Etty’s story with you because it is important to realize that when we have a sense of the importance of prayer, a realization of God’s presence within ourselves, and the willingness to abandon ourselves trustingly to God, we possess real peace and have something that can never be taken away from us.
Etty Hillesum wrote: “Man suffers most through his fear of suffering” and included in this is the suffering that we make up in our head that never becomes reality—-we just live in fear that it might.
Suffering can actually make us grow—-it matures us, teaches us to love unselfishly, humbles us and makes us more compassionate toward others. Fear of suffering hardens us because we are caught up in self-protection, being defensive, making irrational choices that can have bad consequences.
Out of the three readings for this weekend these are the words that seemed to jump off the page at me: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God…he comes to save you. Streams will burst forth in the desert of your lives.”
May Christ open your ears to hear these words clearly and take them to heart.